Anna Sprague - the youngest member of Bounty's crew - testifies on Day 7 of the hearings.

Anna Sprague – the youngest member of Bounty’s crew – testifies on Day 7 of the hearings.

At the start of each day of the hearings, Commander Kevin Carroll does the same thing: he reads a statement.  He tells all in attendance, “The purpose of the investigation is to determine the cause of the casualty and the responsibility therefore to the fullest extent possible; and to obtain information for the purpose of preventing or reducing the effects of similar casualties in the future.”  A worthy purpose, to be sure.  It’s the reason for the discussions about dry docks and caulking, shipwrights and rot, architects and owners, and why there has been so much talk about the crew and what they knew – and what they didn’t.  But then he says something that some may have missed:

“This investigation is also intended to determine whether there is any evidence of any incompetence, misconduct, or willful violation of the law on the part of any licensed officer, pilot, seaman, employee, owner, or agent of the owner of any vessel involved…”

The hearings are also intended to look for evidence of negligence or incompetence.

Incompetence; it’s an ugly word largely because it is so misunderstood. It’s not about intent.  Being incompetent isn’t really about fault.  It’s about ability – or specifically lack of ability – to do a required job. The federal code defines it as “the inability on the part of a person to perform required duties, whether due to professional deficiencies, physical disability, mental incapacity, or any combination thereof.”   While I’m not competent to be judge or jury in this regard, I can say without reservation that there was – by definition – incompetence aboard Bounty. It was the unaccounted for 17th passenger that ended the life of the ship, of her captain, and of Claudene Christian.

When Adam Prokosh fell from port to starboard on the tween deck and broke his back and ribs, he was instantly made incompetent as an able seaman. He was hardly able to crawl anymore. That wasn’t his fault. It just was. How he got in that situation is another matter. But how can Carroll find evidence of incompetence due to professional deficiency?  In some cases it won’t be a stretch.

The engineer, Chris Barksdale, seemed like a very nice guy but he wasn’t competent.  That he wasn’t licensed doesn’t mean he was professionally deficient – that he couldn’t correctly answer the simplest questions about diesel engines did. Believing that Bounty’s engines burned all the supplied fuel and that her engines “didn’t return any fuel to the tanks – they burned it all,” was all anyone needed to hear. When asked to describe Bounty’s bilge system Barksdale replied, “I’m not sure if it was brass or what it was,” and described the manifold as “a series of levers.”  In his questioning of Bounty’s last engineer, Carroll was specifically trying to determine Barksdale’s knowledge about the bilge piping in the individual compartments of the ship:

Carrol: “So they didn’t have any flexible material?” (referring to how the strainers were attached)

Barksdale: “They may have had some, I don’t know.”

Every other witness testified that each strainer was connected to the bilge piping by a three to four foot length of rubber hose. The man on their ship most directly tasked with maintaining the ship’s mechanical systems couldn’t even describe the bilge system.

However, it is important to remember that Bounty’s engineer didn’t hire himself. He wasn’t to blame for his incompetence as a vessel’s engineer. He certainly wasn’t to blame in any way for the tragedy; not at all. But his presence aboard as the engineer points to a larger problem on Bounty – a system of incompetence.

Barksdale did have a lot of experience with mechanical systems (backhoes, tractors, plumbing, and small craft), but who would think that maintaining small skiffs would immediately translate into being a qualified ship’s engineer? Well, his friend John Svendsen, for one. By his acceptance of that suggestion, so too Captain Walbridge.  (Did Hansen, the Bounty’s owner, approve? He’s not talking. But either he didn’t know Barksdale was incompetent, or he didn’t care.)

HR on Bounty

Svendsen and Walbridge appeared to do all of the hiring of crew for the HMS Bounty Organization. Walbridge had decades at sea. Svendsen had worked tall ships prior to Bounty. The rest of the crew- so far it seems –  had an experience base of one:

  • The third mate, Dan Cleveland (25), came aboard from a career in landscaping.  Bounty was his first wooden tall ship.
  • The Bosun, Laura Groves (28), had experience on smaller boats in the Keys. Bounty was her first wooden tall ship.
  • Joshua Scornavacchi (25), was on his first wooden tall ship.
  • Second mate Matt Sanders (37) had worked on a series of ships, including the schooner Margaret Todd, but Bounty was (wait for it) his first wooden tall ship.
  • Testifying Wednesday morning was Anna Sprague (20); of course it was her first wooden tall ship.
  • Claudene Christian (42) , was on her first wooden tall ship.

When the new cook, Jessica Black (34), put on her immersion suit to abandon ship on the 29th of October, she had been aboard Bounty – her first wooden tall ship – for a grand total of about 79 hours. Walbridge and Svendsen had hired a crew – including several ships officers – who wouldn’t know any better. When they were told that “a ship is safer at sea,” and that “all wood boats leak*,” they had to believe  it. They had learned everything they knew about their jobs from their captain and from each other. They were “professionally deficient” and didn’t even know it.

(* – All wood boats may leak a little, but all wood boats do not require constant bilge pumping.)

Walbridge often addressed his crew as “Future captains of America.”  They all speak of Bounty as a great place to learn and as a school where they would learn from the master, Robin Walbridge.  They were “honored to work for him.”  But there has been a theme in the testimony that  “getting better” on Bounty was a substitute for good enough to begin with.  The organization didn’t seem to care how little you knew about your job – so long as you were willing to get better, everything was just fine.  The sea doesn’t see it that way.

Svendsen questioned Anna Sprague, the youngest Bounty survivor:

Svendsen: “Were you trained well on Bounty?”

Sprague: “Oh yes.”

She was twenty years old and on the first boat she had ever known working for the only mariners she had ever worked for.  Honestly, how on earth would she know how well she was trained?

Picton Castle under full sail.

Picton Castle under full sail.

Interview with The Masters

“Evidence of any incompetence”  of a licensed captain would not come by asking questions of the crew that worked beneath him.  They had never been in his position, they didn’t know what he knew or what he should have known. They simply believed and admired the man and trusted his decisions.  To determine whether or not the trip itself was evidence of incompetence or negligence, Carroll had to find similarly credentialed and experienced captains to testify.  He needed to ask them to put themselves in Walbridge’s place, and say what they would have done.  He needed to speak with the best.

On the phone was Captain Daniel Moreland, arguably the most respected captain in the traditional sailing ship community. Moreland was calling in to testify from Tahiti.  His ship, the Picton Castle, is on a six month voyage in the South Pacific. Moreland has taken the barque around the world five times since he’s been captain. His personal sailing experience started in the 1970’s. He is without question one of the most competent sailing ship masters in the world.  When Carroll asked what his thoughts were when he found out Bounty was at sea from New London, Moreland’s response was no surprise:

Moreland: “I couldn’t believe it. I still don’t.”

At the time Sandy was tracking up the Atlantic, the Picton Castle was scheduled to leave home port for the world cruise she was now on. Moreland had cancelled because of the storm days before Bounty had left New London. He went on to discuss the much safer options available to Walbridge if he thought New London was unsafe due to storm surge. “New Bedford – up above the bridge,” Moreland offered.  New Bedford, 100 miles to the north of New London, has a “hurricane barrier” specifically designed as a hiding place for ships that need to avoid storm surge.

When asked by Carroll if he believed that a ship is “safer at sea,” Moreland discussed the difference between a Navy vessel that had the ability to move at 22 knots and be 400 miles from the storm, and a slow-moving historic sailing vessel. “…and the Navy is paid to take that risk so that they can respond if needed for war…but between the ship and crew, you always have to go with what is safer for  the crew.”

Moreland made it clear to investigators that he would not have made the same choice as Walbridge if put in that situation. In fact, he was in the same situation and hadn’t.  The primary difference between Walbridge’s choice to leave and Moreland’s to stay, was that Picton Castle was larger, made of steel,  rigorously inspected, and prepared for a global voyage. If Moreland wasn’t thinking about leaving port in late October – what was Walbridge thinking?  Only the HMS Bounty Organization’s attorney had the nerve to ask:

Moreland: “I can’t imagine what he was thinking.”

There were no further questions from the Bounty Organization.

Ralph Mellusi, the attorney for the estate of Claudene Christian, wanted more specific testimony:

Mellusi: “What if the bilge system of your ship wasn’t in perfect working order and in fact your crew had told you they were concerned that it wasn’t working properly; would you have taken the ship to sea in those conditions?”

Moreland: “That would be unconscionable on a good day.”

Investigators interviewed two more captains of tall ships, including the captain of the Pride of Baltimore II , Jan Miles.  Captain Miles, also a well-respected captain and a friend of Robin Walbridge, was so dismayed by his decision to sail into Sandy’s path that he wrote an open letter to Walbridge calling his decision to sail “reckless in the extreme.”  He too told Carroll he wouldn’t have sailed, and that a ship wasn’t safer at sea, adding “I don’t know what would have caused her [Bounty] to go.”  His responses to Mellusi’s questions were chilling.  Mellusi simply read the most damning passages from Miles’ letter and asked the wooden tall ship captain, “Do you still stand by that statement.” Without hesitation, Captain Miles answered with only one firm word, “Yes.”

The masters had given no quarter to the deceased Walbridge.  Leaving New London on October 25th and sailing toward hurricane Sandy was – in itself – negligent. No competent sailing captain would have done it.

But Robin Walbridge had competently sailed Bounty for seventeen years. Why, indeed, would he do something that no other captain would have done? The investigation continues; Commander Carroll has a massive job still ahead of him. But perhaps Robin Walbridge was suffering from the same thing his crew was – a lack of the right kind of experience.  He had faced down storms before and won, he had tangled with hurricanes and made it home, his experience was that if he headed into harm’s way, he would get away with it.  He had clearly confused the lack of failure with success, and may have begun to truly believe his own advice. Maybe it was something else, I don’t know. Robin Walbridge, the last captain of Bounty, isn’t here to ask.

At the start of each day of the hearings, Commander Kevin Carroll does something else: he reminds us of what brought us there in the first place. When his opening statement is finished, he asks everyone to stand and observe a moment of silence “for those who have lost their lives to this tragedy.” Carroll, like the tall ship sailors he has been questioning, is hard not to like as well.

Next: Day 8 – The Whole Truth

Continued Bounty Coverage:

(Note: In the original posting I stated that Adam Prokosh was new to wooden tall ships. This was incorrect.)

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  • Kolin

    Thank you for this. While not exactly a crucial detail, the Picton Castle actually finished her fifth circumnavigation in 2011. The current voyage is a separate South Pacific voyage.

    • https://www.facebook.com/watersafety Mario Vittone

      I will adjust. Thank you

  • Carole

    This series of Bounty articles is amazing. I see a prize winning book in your future where you can fill in all the details you’ve had to leave out. Thank you for writing them.

    In watching some of the livestream hearings coverage, I got confused on the weather fax issue. I thought Tracey Simonin testified that she had to use the Internet to hunt down hurricane info and email it to the ship (when she was awake). Yet the crew testified they received information via weather fax. What information was the Captain basing his (not so good) weather decisions on? When the boat would lose power, were either of these sources reliable?

    These hearings must have been hurtful for Claudene Christian’s parents. Even Cmdr. Carroll’s skillful questioning couldn’t get the answers they are looking for and I’m still not sure why they are so hard to get.

    • Lance Cryan

      I agree, book!
      I think answers are hard to get because this crew has a blind naive devotion to their “captain” who nearly killed them all.

  • Stephen Olson

    I’ve never met Dan Moreland, but I spent several months with his nephew, Mike Moreland, who sailed as second mate on the Amistad when I was driving. I came to regard him as being made in the image of his uncle. I’ve been on sailing vessels with both Mike Moreland and Kit Africa, and if someone asked me to pick who was the better guy aloft, I wouldn’t be able to say. Which is about the highest praise I can give to a young sailor.
    I also sailed on the “Pride” with Jan Miles as master, and have the utmost respect for his professional ability.
    It’s very sad that these guys should be asked to give testimony against their fellow captain, and I can’t imagine that it made either of them happy to deliver such damning opinions.

    • Tom Ward

      Having sailed with DDM for years, and being acquainted with Jan Miles, I don’t think it bothered either of them one bit.

  • Deeana

    “But perhaps Robin Walbridge was suffering from the same thing his crew was – a lack of the right kind of experience. He had faced down storms before and won, he had tangled with hurricanes and made it home, his experience was that if he headed into harm’s way, he would get away with it. He had clearly confused the lack of failure with success, and may have begun to truly believe his own advice.”

    Which “advice”? Are you referring to statements he made in the video interview about how to navigate a hurricane?

    And again, great series of articles. Spot-on in your descriptions of the characters involved, objective and extremely informative. Keep writing, you’re good at it!

    For a little deja vu, here is a review of a book written about the loss of the Fantome in Hurricane Mitch:

    “A tragic whitewash!, December 14, 2000

    By Craig Bailey, Master Mariner

    This review is from: The Ship and the Storm (Hardcover)

    The loss of the M/S Fantome was one of the most tragic and unnecessary marine disasters in years. Mr. Carrier sounds as if he is either best friends with Mike Burke or a Windjammer employee. He fails to deal with the facts, that the ship was 70 years old, had hull damage when she fell over during dry-docking in Martinique, had no watertight compartments, had less than minimum horsepower, and was totally unequipped for extreme heavy weather. The ship was equipped with minimum SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) gear, and was banned by US Coast Guard to carry passengers from US ports because she was unable to meet standards for International Port State Control. Further, he fails to mention Burke’s style of management, to intimidate captains and crew. When captains elect prudence and good seamanship over Burke’s orders, they are usually replaced. I believe that the incident could have been avoided completely and 33 souls would still be with us today if Burke had not been micromanaging the situation from his suite in Miami Beach via satellite telephone. Many were the opportunities to seek safe harbour and evacuate the crew. This book gives an accurate account of the tragedy, but fails to discuss why the tragedy really occurred, gambling with peoples lives to protect property.”

    • http://www.gcaptain.com Mario Vittone

      “Which “advice”?”

      That a ship is safer at sea; that Bounty does well in hurricanes, etc.

      • http://Caphenning.com Henning

        How could he be so unaware as to the condition of his vessel? That is the big question I am left with.

    • Tom Hunter

      Rick raises a very important point. When we try to understand what happened here, some of us are using the phrase “cult like.” It’s important to look at material like the link Rick is posting, or the point one person made on facebook, that Bounty made the same errors people learn not to make in flight crew training.

      Bounty had a very serious problem with organizational behavior. They did not have the features of a cult, there was no messianic message, no ostracizing of former members, no strange, difficult, initiation rites.

      If we want to understand why Bounty sank, one of the causes was a lack of experience within the whole organization. Another was the tendency to defer to the superior experience of the captain, which is normally a good thing, but was not in this case.

      It’s a hard problem, but one that is worth discussing if you want to avoid a similar accident in the future.

    • Pete

      At work, we call that “At risk behavior”. Just because probability smiles upon you a hundred times doesn’t mean she won’t screw on the 101st.

  • Jonathan Joseph

    Mario, excellent coverage and distillation of the facts. I’ve been involved in the traditional sailing ship industry for 25 years starting as sailing crew and then moving into many years as a shipwright. I appreciate your respectful insightful commentary based on your real experience and I think it’s right on.

  • C

    “The sea is slow and selective at recognizing effort and aptitude, but fast at sinking the unfit.” – Felix Reisenberg jr.

  • Dan Slobodzian

    This is some of them most impressive writing on any maritime subject I’ve read in a very long time. Job well done Mr. Vittone. You have skillfully been extracting the lessons learned from the circumstances and testimony and then expressing them in a way to make it plainly clear what we should be taking from this incident. It almost doesn’t matter if the USCG investigating officer is as skillful when producing the final conclusions and recommendations because it sure seems most of the immediate lessons that need to be learned should be by shipowners and crews (but mostly shipowners). Lessons about experience, competency, manning and, dare I say it, seamanship. These are fundamental aspects of our industry / profession. Absent regulation do shipowners generally think in terms of seamanship anymore? In light of the facts being reported and as analyzed by yourself the question is not how could this happen but how could it not?

    Granted these poor souls seem to have been only marginally involved in this industry and sailing on a loop hole but you pay dearly for mistakes at sea. Can you regulate dumb mistakes out of going to sea? Can you eliminate paying for dumb mistakes? Not likely. When even the most casual events at sea have (or can have) such dire consequences how can you assemble an operation like this and not have a second thought about how things might turn out? Did the crew have any basis to have the degree of trust they plainly had in their captain’s abilities? Looking over the crew list experience summary in this post, clearly not. They assumed it would be all right. It seems the the only one with enough experience to make the proper decision that departure day and at every critical point during the sequence of awful events that followed was the one guy they all trusted and assumed he knew what he was doing. And he made a mistake.

    Anyway, thank you for your reporting and analysis. You have been frank in your opinions, backed them up with facts and logic and have avoided gratuitous condemnation. I hope the right people are reading it.

  • Val

    Familiarity certainly bred contempt. Lets hope it hasn’t festered like the rot in the ship.

  • Deeana

    “It’s very sad that these guys should be asked to give testimony against their fellow captain, and I can’t imagine that it made either of them happy to deliver such damning opinions.”

    Wait. Wait. Help me out here. “Asked to give testimony against their fellow captain”? “Delivering such damning opinions”?

    These witnesses were giving testimony. Period. Hopefully truthful testimony. (I actually think several of them skirted around truth to the best of their ability.)

    Two captains of similar vessels were asked what they would have done under similar circumstances and with similar weather reports. They each said they would not have left port in the first place.

    If I may ask, what – legally and within the chain of command and adhering to maritime rules, requirements, ethics and whatever else is involved – could have been done by the crew members onboard the Bounty in New London, CT? What can be done – other than new regulations – to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future?

    Also, what exactly is considered to be mutiny of the crew in today’s world? Or yesterday’s world? Or is it the same as it ever was?

    • Stephen Olson

      Both Miles and Moreland were offering their opinions, based on experience. that’s a very different thing from being asked to recite facts, which is testimony. An opinion is based on the available facts, and only a god or a fool thinks that he has access to all the facts. Testimony to the facts is limited in scope, and doesn’t require the witness to make conclusions.

    • Lance Cryan

      Agreed, those words struck me as well.
      As if when a captn destroys his own ship
      and endangers his crew others in the tall ship
      community are to close ranks and cover it up.
      What is “damning” is walbridges decisions.
      And expert testimony is entered into the record as that, testimony.

    • Peter Willis

      In response to Deeana’s question, ‘What could have been done by the crew before sailing’ I seem to remember from an earlier stage in the hearing that Wallbridge gave the crew the option of not sailing. That they did not take this option, and perhaps were not experienced enough to understand why they should take it is, as has been shown, a major factor in this tragedy.

  • Brian

    Just to clarify, your statement “Adam Prokosh (27), was on his first wooden tall ship.” is false. At least the “sailed on his first wooden tall ship” part. In his testimony he listed a bunch of tall ships that he had previously worked on, of which only 2 were steel hulls. One of the ships he listed was the Exy Johnson, a vessel I myself have sailed on. Last time I checked the hull was made out of wood. Purple Hart to be exact.

    • http://www.gcaptain.com Mario Vittone

      I will make the correction ASAP. Thank you.

    • Kari

      I sailed with Prokosh back in 2007 on Lady Washington. She is old growth Douglas Fir. He definately knew wooden boats.

      • https://www.facebook.com/watersafety Mario Vittone

        “Being” on a wooden boat for a summer internship from MMA and “knowing” wooden boats are different things – but I made the correction to the article.

  • http://www.flatheadmemo.com James Conner

    How much seafaring experience is required to understand that putting to sea in an old sailing ship and heading toward a hurricane is a bad idea? I think the answer is: no seafaring experience is necessary. The average farmer in Kansas knows sailing toward a hurricane when there’s a safer alternative is nuts.

    That’s what makes Walbridge’s conduct so inexplicable — unless, of course, he was, figuratively speaking, just a half step ahead of the sheriff, fleeing something he found more terrifying than an encounter with a hurricane in an old, slow, and not that seaworthy, sailing ship.

    There’s got to be more to this than we’ve learned so far. My compliments to Mario Vittone for his thorough and insightful reporting.

    • http://jacktar.org Kim

      @Brian thanks for rereading Adam’s testimony. I thought Adam had sailed on wooden boats before as well, but I had only crewed with him on a steel boat.

      • https://www.facebook.com/watersafety Mario Vittone

        Thanks for clearing it up, Kim (and Brian) – I even had that in my notes. I made the correction and kept a note at the bottom of the piece for continuity.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/daviddb/ daviddb

    Would that the newspaper articles I’ve read were as thoughtful, compelling and insightful as this series have been.

    Hats doffed.

    And the expression “Confusing the lack of failure for evidence of success” duly stolen for future recycling…:~}

    regards as always

    David

    • https://www.facebook.com/watersafety Mario Vittone

      No worries, David. I recycled it from Laurance Gonzales’ book, Deep Survival; Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why.

      “The word ‘experienced’ often refers to someone who’s gotten away with doing the wrong thing more frequently than you have.”

  • http://GreatEarthNavigation.Com Captain Robert Scott

    Well done, sir.

  • Dave

    Thank you for this series of narrative reports Mario, well done, insightful and thought provoking!

  • Commodore Larry Wade

    Always….a Captain’s first responsibility is to the welfare of his/her crew. That is primary and has been for Centuries. The ability to fulfill that responsibility depends on protecting your vessel, without which you are all lost. Knowing the vessel and operating her safely (which, of course, means crewing with the best persons possible) is paramount to successfully protecting her and her cargo. In this case, her cargo was simply “historical” and apparently to earn money for continued operation. Did this justify sailing into “Sandy”. I think not….. My kudos to Commander Carroll for his cautious, caring in depth investigation and to you Mr. Vittone for your excellent reporting and summations. It is certainly becoming evident that the Captain, the crew, and the ownership were all lacking in good old fashioned “Sea Sense”; never mind that the vessel was in no way that I would consider “Sea Worthy”.

    • David Hastie

      The Captain is responsible for the safety of the crew, but it doesn’t depend on the ship when it is facing a choice between sailing out to a hurricane or staying in port.

  • Ricardo Moreno

    Mario is the cat’s whiskers! Heartiest congratulations for a very delicate job that you have carried out brilliantly and with humility. You are a real SEA MAN.

    Ricardo Moreno

  • http://www.bbbrown.com Robert

    You are doing a superb job of reporting. Your ability to point out the nuances of meaniing in key concepts such as separating incompetence from intent and the painting of the background events that led to the crew being in the position of wanting to be better rather than being competent is excellent. Thank you for your outstanding reporting.

    Bob

  • Don

    Perhaps the real issue of why the Bounty was out there is greed. I had heard that Bounty was trying to make it to its next scheduled appearance in Tampa. I believe it was to be in ten days time. That doesn’t leave much time for the Bounty to get there, let alone wait out storms. Isn’t there appearance money involved with some these ship visits?
    I really appreciate the outstanding writing going into this narrative of the Bounty Coast Guard hearings. Well Done!

    • john

      yes there is money involved but the economics of attraction vessel operation do not, in my experience, allow for much profit. Any financial motivations are more about survival and breaking even. Maybe he felt he had to make the appearance to pay the bills. That would be regrettable but it wouldn’t be greed.

  • Bernard

    I met Walbridge and some of the crew briefly when they were docked in Belfast, NI. I was left with the impression that he was running on a shoestring budget and the crew were volunteers paying their own way. Has anything regarding this come out in the hearings?

    • Samantha

      They certainly were on a shoestring budget. But the crew were paid, very minimally, but paid.

  • Samantha

    Thank you for your reporting on the Bounty hearings. As former crew of Bounty I’ve found your reports to be the most thorough and honest around. I hope you do decide to write a longer report or even a book on this incident. Your perspective is much needed.

    I have to say that when I crewed on Bounty (2003-2004) I had only a year of wooden “tall ship” experience. I knew she had a spotty reputation in the industry but I wanted to learn aboard a wooden full rigged ship….so I joined the crew. I was inexperienced, and I knew that, which is why I only ever took deckhand positions. But now in hindsight I wonder if I would have chosen to leave the ship before sailing into a hurricane. Would I have trusted Robin and my mates or would I have done the right thing and left. I honestly don’t know what my 24 year old self would have done at that time. I still work in the maritime industry and am still learning every day. I think you hit the nail on the head regarding the culture aboard Bounty….that we didn’t know enough to realize that we were young and inexperienced crew being asked to do things that were putting our lives at risk. Its that realization that has been haunting me since the day Bounty left us.

  • ArtK

    There’s a well-known psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. In essence, people are the worst judges of their own competence. That’s one reason why we have independent inspections and certifications — to take away that self-judgment. Sadly, the captain and crew of Bounty avoided that. By operating on the fringe, they lost the opportunity for someone to say “you’re in big, big trouble.”

  • fred naton

    All right, I’m going to say it, ’cause none of your other shocked, shocked shocked readers seems to be saying it: this series is shooting fish in a barrel. Mario, you’re beating a dead cod excoriating the master for taking his DAP-filled barque a foot from the dock let alone a league. Maybe you should cut the six-part sanctimony and take a look at the regulatory system that allows the “Bountys,” with their trained landscapers, and outward-bounders to even exist. But then, perhaps your credentials do reflect a certain bias.

    I mean, who’s kidding who, when it comes to charter, the CG has a laissez faire attitude. Its look-the-other-way-unless-someone-dies policy, then make a spectacle to cover your ass; it’s a pretty well understood USCG safety protocol.
    Of course the Bounty shouldn’t have sailed(though New London is no place to be during a storm), but then perhaps the tall schlep, with its empty lists of free mates and engineers, dockside certifications and “show” schedules, shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

    It seems in the maritime world there is charter and then there is tonnage.

    Charter is the unwanted step child of USCG, DOT and exists in a regulatory limbo where no one wants to bother. The field is neither prestigious enough nor practical enough to inspect as it should be inspected.

    Tonnage is the queen bee. And yet, even there, regulatory control is diluted, by–power and lucre.

    Tonnage makes money, gets classed, inspected, surveyed and still owners cheat, scrimp and abuse their help–despite CG and marpol rules. Chinese crews on bulkers right out of Heart of darkness, lying masters who can’t remember how their ships got their bilges full of cement boxes (oh yeah, that reef out of dubai),magic pipes, manipulations of class, and cg, etc.
    I recall a USCG ruling on a prominent-but-blind harbor pilot who after striking a bridge–despite the best efforts of ship’s captain to prevent the “kiss”–walked away unblamed. The ponderous CG ruling found no one at fault. Evidently ships just run up on immovable objects every once and awhile..

    • http://www.gcaptain.com Mario Vittone

      So because the government doesn’t have a rule in place that makes being criminally negligent and endangering employees a crime, then they shouldn’t be held accountable for doing so?

      There is a reason that all such regulations are written in blood, Fred. When the Coast Guard (or any congressmen for that matter) proposes regulation based on it being a good idea alone; when we asked for laws to make stupid illegal, the industry fights back saying, “We know what we doing and we can keep my own crews safe.” Senators are called, lobbyists go to work, and safety regulations for the sake of safety get shut down.

      See http://mariovittone.com/2012/08/deadliest-catch/

      There wasn’t a single tall ship captain on the east coast of North America that stayed in port because he was regulated into staying. Bounty could have been made out of titanium, built in 2012, and be crewed by the best crew in the world, and it still would have been a terrible idea to take her out.

      As for increased inspection regulations, I hope that happens. But if the Coast Guard recommends that congress pass a bill that would fully regulated all charter and recreational vessels, get ready for a Coast Guard four times its current size, and a bill to go with it.

      I’m not trying to shoot fish in a barrel, but your point is well taken. Calling ridiculous, “ridiculous” is easy and there is a larger problem. But I don’t think the larger problem is the United States Coast Guard. They are suffering from the same problem the Bounty did; their owner is under-funding their operation, looking the other way, and hoping for the best. I hope things get better.

      Until it does, I have chosen to write about the mistakes made by some specifically so others like yourself will join in the discussion and come up with ideas that make everyone safer.

  • fred naton

    Mario, the government has laws in place that make endangering employees a crime(USCG, OSHA, NLRB). Enforcement is another issue.

    My annoyance is not with levels of regulation but with the political theatre of investigating “stupid,” and its coverage, reminiscent of Senate dog and pony shows where committee pols vied to lash a banker to show how tough they are on financial fraud, a simulacrum of actually doing something.

    My guess is the USCG spectacle will substitute for real introspection or reform, dead captain blamed, egregious maintenance cited, CG not only vindicated but honest recipients of valor for rescue, case closed.

    Will the committee look at its role in the sinking? Will it assess the understaffed/underfunded MSOs compared to the steroidal musculature of overfunded law enforcement?
    50 calibers on every safeboat? Half-a-billion-dollar NSC 418’coastal enforcement vessels(don’t we already have a navy?)?

    Tonnage gets the bulk of MSO inspection time–because tonnage PAYS for it thru service to the industry, will we hear about that? Charter gets neglected because CG can’t assess its fees without wiping out marginally profitable businesses will we hear about that? Probably not.

    I understand the hearings are coverage du jour, but the best journalists follow up these he/she said dramas by asking the more complicated and tough questions. Of course, in doing so, you will bore the bulk of your readers and annoy your regulatory hosts. Following that course, then perhaps you will better understand the Shay’s of the world who’s service before the mast pays only personal satisfaction.

    Instead these committee serve as a way to vindicate themselves.

    USCG MSO branch is understaffed and underfunded due to hose of reasons, are the underfunded and neglected offices of USCG.

    • http://www.gcaptain.com Mario Vittone

      “Instead these committee serve as a way to vindicate themselves.”

      I disagree.

      “Will the committee look at its role in the sinking?”

      It will – as will the NTSB…who was sitting right next to USCG. The NTSB has no problem assigning blame to FAA/USCG/others when it finds evidence to support.

      As for over funding of one mission and under funding of another, I share your obvious frustrations. But that is not the purpose – as mandated by federal law – of the investigation. I would write about that (and most likely will) in the future; but for now I am focusing on the hearings and the Bounty mishap.

      A licensed captain takes his vessel to sea in a storm; it couldn’t be more easy to cry “stupid” and dismiss the rest of the evidence, but that wouldn’t help the rest of us. That won’t make things better.

      Again, I’m simply trying to present the facts (as I understand them) and provide some insight if I can.

      The Coast Guard is not perfect – neither am I (or you) – neither are fifty tall ship captains who didn’t venture into the Atlantic in late October of 2012. That isn’t a reason to ignore the evidence and not discuss it among others who have a stake in the outcome of the hearings.

    • JAK

      Fred, the Bounty’s actions were not shocking to me, as I knew the boat, the captain, and culture aboard. I think Mario has done his best to wade through the hearing, reserving judgment until there was no choice, pointing out particular errors along the way that can be used as learning tools for those less informed. Perhaps it is shooting fish in a barrel to me as well, but not to many, unfortunately. Take a look at the crew. They still stand by their dead captain.

      In your previous comment you seem to believe that the CG is somehow at fault because it doesn’t regulate charter boats properly. The Bounty was no such vessel. She could not carry passengers. You seem to have missed that somewhere. The Bounty acted as a private vessel while underway. Do you expect the CG to inspect all private vessels? Could you imagine the budget needed there? I don’t necessarily disagree with you that the CG should perhaps spend less in some areas and more on others. I also have a few opinions on how they should do it as well, as I build passenger vessels for a living and have captained more than a few. I don’t feel the CG needs to “vindicate” itself from anything. I think it does want to make a public example of foolishness, however, as well as get the facts out in a less hostile environment than court. This is far from over. Now the law suits begin, and perhaps more.

      There is no shortage of regulations on small passenger vessels; and, once again, Bounty was not one. There is perhaps a shortage of knowledge and training for MSO officers on these boats, especially ones built of modern composites. However, nobody is jumping up and down wanting to fund that right now. Tonnage does rule, and as tragic as the Bounty is, the Valdez affected a lot more lives with a much greater economic impact, regardless if anyone died. I think you’ll have to accept that, right or wrong.

      I do agree that tough questions need to be asked, and I hope Mario goes there as I enjoy his style. My opinion is that instead of the underfunded CG stepping in with more regulations in an industry they know little about, Tall Ships America should step up to the plate and set strict guidelines, with certifications granted for those who follow them. Working with the CG to set these rules would be wise. I’d bet the CG would offer up some time for this. Once in place, tall ships would not likely attract many people without that certification, nor would they likely be insured easily. This has worked well in the comparatively dangerous dive industry, at least well enough for the CG not to step in and have to take over.

      Now, this part may be a bit extreme, but if you really want to stop these accidents, quit insuring the boats. Of course many would go out of business for fear of risk, but no owner would be more worried about saving $500 a week on salary as opposed to saving his boat. This is actually where all this lack of knowledge stems from. It’s cheaper to have a good insurance policy and a bad captain. What would likely happen over time is the good captains that exist would end up with the boats and operate these vessels themselves. That would be a good thing.

  • Veronica

    Thank you Mario, for your great coverage of the Bounty trials!

    I was horrified when the Bounty sank last year because I had just booked an overnight trip (as a passenger) on another tall ship, and for the first time ever it occurred to me (a 100% landlubber) that these boats could actually sink! Yes, I know that sounds naive and stupid, but I think I had assumed that because there were so many of these tall ships around these days, and because there were so many festivals and tours, and because there were so many passengers going on so many trips, that somehow that meant everything was regulated and professional and safe?

    After the Bounty sank, I looked up how many other tall ships have sank in recent years and I was quite surprised! I also read Daniel Parrott’s book, ‘Tall Ship Down’, which is excellent, as it was originally written as his Master’s thesis and is full of charts, graphs and many details. I also, and I know that this also sounds a bit ridiculous, starting taking sailing lessons on little 14′ dinghies.

    I only mention all of this because when I did finally take my tall ship voyage, I found out that I had more experience “at sea” (via my dinghy lessons)and more knowledge of ship safety (via Parrott’s book) than many of the crew! The majority where nice young new college graduates with no experience on ships or even on the water. The engineer was actually still in college! I would say that only the Captain and the Mates were experienced “seamen”, and everyone else knew about as much as I did (or less) about tall ship sailing. And the Captain had never sailed this particular ship before.

    So there we were, myself and two other passengers, and although we got a tour of the ship from a nice lady who joined the ship just a few months earlier (from a career in HR), we never had a proper safety briefing, such as where the life jackets were, or how to deploy the life rafts, or even a rudimentary “where to go” in an emergency” lecture. Where were the emergency beacons? Were there any? Whose job was it to activate these things? The life rafts were in huge metal cans and it looked to me like it take quite a bit of time to get them deployed. Did anyone even know how to use them?

    The entire crew was so lackadaisical about the whole thing that it left like everyone thought we were on some kind of train, or an RV, and not sitting 25 miles out in the open ocean, in a wooden ship. I felt that, in an emergency situation, it would be absolute chaos.

    Fortunately, of course, nothing happened. No disasters of any kind, no need to abandon ship, no emergencies — the trip was as placid as sitting in a bathtub, and under those conditions, who needs to know anything, really? With almost no wind, we motored the entire trip and the crew mostly sat around listening to their iPods.

    So, what I would like to know, as a potential passenger on these ships, which ones are the safest? The most professional? The “best” inspected? I’m not an expert on Coast Guard certifications, but is there a certification I should look for? If they carry paying passengers, does that mean they have a “better” certification? If they carry more than six passengers, is that any better?

    Is there any resource regarding safety ratings, inspections (passed or failed), or any other measure that the public can use to compare the vessels? Are European vessels more or less safe? Or is safety always just a guess?

    It seems to me that some kind of an independent assessment of these ships from a a safety point of view would be invaluable for “tourists” like me, especially since there is often no way to “inspect” the ships beforehand. A sort of “Zagat’s” reviews for tall ships?

    At the moment there is no source for this information. Tall Ships America lists all the member ships, but specifically states that they are making no recommendations or promises as regard to the safety of the ship or competence of the crew. There really is a huge gap in the “market” for this sort of information (from a professional and respected source) if you ask me. Obviously, you would be the perfect person to write such a thing.

    As the tall ship industry seeks to move from the “fringe” towards the mainstream, some sort of safety ratings, comprehensible to non-sailors, need to be established.

    Thanks again for your great writing!

    • https://www.facebook.com/JackTarMag Kim Carver

      In other news, in the U.S. over 80 people died in car crashes today, due to things like driver error and faulty vehicle design or maintenance.

      We need more regulation!

    • Chris J Brady

      I can’t help wondering what unprofessional outfit you sailed with that allowed its paid crew to spend time listening to iPhones (or whatever). Did none of them take time out to go round learning the ship, working out the configuration of the pin-rail, doing maintenance, swabbing the deck, etc.? Didn’t they communicate with you and the others – even amongst themselves – or were they sll wrapped up most(maybe all?) of the time in their narrow auditory worlds? What about safety drills? What about giving you a turn on the helm? What about informal lectures on the weather, navigation, how tall ships sail, what tacking / wearing ship means, etc. It sounds as though your ship was not crewed by experienced or knowledgeable crew at all – from the top down. But I bet the organisation took your money though!!

  • Ron Palmer

    The obvious has been said many times that Captain Wallbridge was ultimately responsible for the disaster of “Bounty”. The buck stops at the Captain but the 1st Mate has a hand in this and he also has some responsibility for sailing with into the face of Hurricane Sandy. It is recalled that he did question Captain Wallbridge and the Captain did give all hands the chance of not sailing. Had the Mate categorically refused to sail and given the many sound reasons available as to why he would not sail on “Bounty” and impressed those reasons on other crew members sufficient numbers may have joined him to leave the ship and prevent Wallbridge from sailing. The Mate has a lot to answer for but I guess his certificate cannot be suspended as he probably does not have one.

    • Val

      I, too, was very upset at the lack of accountability of the First Mate. I was appalled at how the USCG all but gave him a damn ticker-tape parade at the end of the hearings.

  • http://none Anonymous

    Like most of the readers of your excellent reporting, I am surprised at the testimony that points to an apparent lack of respect for safety on the Bounty. While the form (back up generator, back-up de-watering pumps, etc.) was there,the substance (maintenance, tested equipment, crew drill, crew experience) was not. In offshore yacht racing, which is primarily amateur, every boat faces daunting requirements made by the international sailing organizations (ISAF and ORC)and enforced by race committtees. Captains must submit crew resumes and have formal safety-at-sea training for a high percentage of the race crew. Boats face vigorous design stabilty and strength requirements as well as redundant system requirements followed by pre and post race inspections of every detail. Is there not some similar self-regulatory assocation for such vessels as Bounty? If not, I wager that the USCG sure will fill the void.

  • Chris J Brady

    Moderator – please ignore this post. It has been replaced.

    • Eaglos

      Moderator…? Hell yeah! hahaha…

  • Jay Bottelson

    Mario, You are weaving a compelling story that brings me back every day to see how you will top the prior day’s writing — and you are not disappointing. A hat tip to you for your prior service and experience and your current endeavor.

  • Chris

    Having been in the Yachting/Pleasure boat industry for the better part of 25 years it’s well known that the tall ship world operates on very tight budgets often with volenteer crew who perhaps work for the adventure, meals, a bunk, and the ability to log sea time to expand there career to a better funded operation. I am not critizing those that sail because of pure compassion but one that’s proud of those experienced or not that keep our history and heritage alive albeit the obvious risk. Everyone starts somewhere and in this industry it’s often aboard a classic rig such as this. The decision to make way into the path of storm is much like driving on ice. The critical challenge with ship operations is risk management, to lives first and the ship second.

  • Paul

    As a cadet at NY Maritime we were required to memorize a quote by Felix Riesenberg that I think is appropriate, “The sea is selective, slow at recognition of effort and aptitude but fast in the sinking of the unfit.”

  • Bill

    This series of articles is the best of its kind I’ve read since the Expose’ on the US Rangers in Somolia that became the book and later Movie “Blackhawk Down”.

    As a recreational sailor/”master” of a 36′ coastal cruiser and a Commercial Pilot, I see so many failures of leadership, decsion making, willful ignorance and illusional thinking its not hard to believe the “holes in the cheese” lined up and the disater chain was tragically completed.

    I look forward to your future writings on this tragedy and would like to see this follow the same trajectory as Blackhawk down with a well written book, putting all the facts on the table.

    • Chris J Brady

      For all of those following this sad sequence of day by day investigations I urge everyone to view the CBC documentary “Overboard” about the drowning if Laura Gainey – one of the paid ‘deck-hand’ crew of Picton Castle a few years ago. The voyage she started out on was also a disaster without any strong and experienced leadership, confusing orders during the height of the storm which ultimately lead to her being washed overboard, appalling safety especially for crew going aloft without safety harnesses, and even sailing without a cook. To beat Canadian SOLAS regulations the ship was (and maybe still is) registered with the Cook Islands as a flag of convenience. The original inquiry’s scathing findings, commissioned by the Cook Islands Government, were then (allegedly) whitewashed after strong pressure from owner / Captain Dan Moreland resulting in a second laudatory report being issued. However CBC’s documentary “Overboard,” using eye-witness accounts including video footage of life on board at the time, came to the same conclusions as the original scathing report. These latter findings were also backed up by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) report. This is another ship that went out into a heavy storm with incompetent senior crew, a poorly maintained ship, inexperienced voyage crew, and a reported complete lack of any concerns for the health and safety of the youngsters on board. The ship did not even have a cook on board.

      Please see:

      http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/overboard/

      http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/2008-2009/overboard/index.html

      http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/2008-2009/overboard/video.html

      http://www.tsb.gc.ca/en/reports/marine/2006/m06f0024/m06f0024.asp

  • Larry

    Mario is a little harsh on the issue of incompetence of the Bounty’s crew. The vast majority of any tall ship crew is going to be in their 20’s and early 30’s. Thus they are not going to have the years that many commercial crews might have. However, in one season of four to five months they will get more sea-time, and do more than a cadet sailing on the USCG Eagle does in four years.

    By the time most navy officers have done five deployments, they have reached the rank of Lt. Commander or Commander, and are deemed capable of being the captain of one of our warships. Thus I bristle at the sneering observation that Dan Cleveland, the third mate, had been a “landscaper.” He had been on board the Bounty for five seasons, was a diligent mate, and studied tall ship sailing as well as did it. Note that he was good enough that one of the captains that testified wanted to “steal” him.

    The same captain, whose testimony as an expert the Coast Guard was relying on, also indicated that he had his eye on John, the First Mate. Adam was an AB who had been on several wooden tall ships, and Doug had made a second career in tall ships, having become an AB. He is also the holder of the top ham radio license.

    The Bounty made an effort the past several years to push its crew to get the next certification. They even arranged some certification testing for crew members who were ready. Also, two other crew members, outside of Captain Walbridge, held captain’s licenses. John, the First Mate, returned to the Bounty just before she sailed after dry dock because he had been attending additional schooling.

    It is true that the Bounty was Jessica Black’s first tall ship, but she was the cook! And a good one from what I hear. And she had served as a cook at sea before.

    Anna Sprague – I will put her up against any 20 year old on the Eagle – holding a course, taking in a sail, and doing a proper boat check. As to instruction, I know that Dan, the Mate of C watch, to which Anna was assigned, always had a fifteen minute teaching session after every watch -that’s twice a day.

    Sometimes a decision is so bad that no amount of competence can save you. For instance, a pilot taking off in icy conditions. Staying home is sometimes all the competence that you need.

    Now it is true that the engineer did not have the experience nor the time on the Bounty’s systems to be competent in an emergency during a storm. The pumps, while still working, did not seem to be working at capacity. The Bounty leaked a little even in harbor, although less so after yard period. These are all factors that should have caused the Captain to seek shelter and not make a higher risk choice to leave port. Why Captain Walbridge’s knowledge and experience did not guide his judgement in this decision leaves us all scratching our heads. It was this decision, not the basic competence of the crew, that put them in an irretrievable position.

    • https://www.facebook.com/watersafety Mario Vittone

      I’ll bet Anna was as good as any 20 year-old aboard Eagle too. But Eagle has a much better budget for repairs and if aboard, Anna wouldn’t have been 1/16th of the total crew. There is room for that kind of green on Eagle. Even 1/3rd green as Bounty was isn’t unmanageable on a milky run up the river. But the October 25 Crew of Bounty leaving New London was “incompetent” to the task of hurricane sailing in a 50 year old wooden replica tall ship. I’m sorry if the word seams harsh, but it fits.

  • Eric

    The Bounty sinking was caused by a series of bad decisions, the most egregious being the one to leave safe harbor. Robin’s hurricane avoidance plan somehow took him right into the path. When flooding became a serious issue, there was no timely call for help. Abandoning ship as it capsized could have killed more because of entanglement in the rigging and/or blunt force injuries from the thrashing debris.

    This may be one for the behavioral scientists. What could possibly cause a man described as rational and experienced to make so many bad decisions? Was it the snowball effect? Did the stress and difficulties caused by the first bad decision cause subsequent decisions to be more and more irrational?

    The lack of oversight by Bounty’s owner is also curious. Always good to have a jack-of-all-trades captain, but if I owned a 50-year old high-maintenance wooden ship that was worth $4.6 million, I would at least be getting second opinions if my captain wanted to leave port when no one else did.

    I think this wreck may be most like the Amoco Cadiz. In that case, the captain’s hands were tied by over-regulation by the vessel operator. He didn’t have the authority to authorize a Lloyd’s Open Form, so precious time was lost as he tried contacting headquarters. In the case of Bounty, the opposite seems true. Headquarters gave too much authority to the captain, but the results were the same. Ship lost.

  • Doug Bostrom

    Speaking as a neophyte sailor, for me the the most instructive part of this series is the reminder to heed the impenetrable nature of ignorance until it’s replaced by information. “We can’t know what we don’t know” is often easily shrugged off with a sheepish grin and shoulder shrug when our ignorance is unveiled in benign circumstances but not so when we’re farther from land than we can walk or wade.

    Last year we chartered a 40′ keelboat to do some hacking around in the Whitsundays, off Australia’s east coast. The charter base was apparently willing to take my scanty resume (skippering a 72′ powerboat sounds very impressive if you ignore that it’s a narrowboat sailing inland canal waters of the UK) as-is but a vaguely foreboding sense that I was missing some important details led me to pay (dearly) for some intensive instruction on coastal cruising. The additional information was enough to make me feel as though I’d not be putting our guests at imminent, immediate dire risk but that said our safety still depended on conditions staying within the boundaries of my training. COB ok unless there were seas exceeding the safe reach of a boathook, anchoring ok unless conditions demanded something fancier than drop-and-back with a single hook, etc. There’s an ever-shifting demarcation between competent and incompetent.

    More than ever I going to be wondering about the blank spots in my mind. Thanks for provoking thought, Mario.

  • Pam Barone

    My thanks for an informative series of posts. This story, and the Captain’s behavior, remind me a lot of what Evan S Connell wrote about Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Custer was spectacularly blessed with a fearless attitude, a confidence that boosted him into leadership during the Civil War and thus into the Indian Wars at a young age. He was also incredibly lucky. Connell wrote that like most people, Custer seemed to have simply decided that, a bold move had always worked before, he had always been lucky before, and he would be lucky again. Thus the 7th Cavalry rode into history. Was Custer’s headlong charge into overwhelming forces partly driven by his hopes that he would be running for President after the campaign? Quite possibly.

    So, was Bounty’s captain eager to make port by Nov 9 because he believed in the tantalizing chance that there would be an infusion of corporate money? One can only speculate now.

    Perhaps these tall ships could have two crews – the well-meaning folks who work for the tourists and photo ops, and then hire actual experienced seamen to make the ocean voyages twice a year when they move? Its hard to imagine a ship this big with such a small crew, and even harder to imagine a group of people passively agreeing to risk the ship and their lives. Even people who work in an office will take a leave day when there’s a bad storm.

    I don’t get how people could claim to love the ship, love their work, love the captain, and just silently passively leave port. My sympathy for those who lost their loves ones.

  • fred naton

    JAK– i realize the Bounty was not an inspected passenger vessel, but held some special status as tied-to-the-dock sideshow that allowed it to have more than six passengers aboard. I am assuming that is crew had USCG licensing is the reason for the admin hearing.

    Mario– the last two comments of mine, including “Instead these committees serve as a way to vindicate themselves” were intended to be edited out. I didn’t scroll all the way done in the text box before hitting send.
    That said, I believe it is a fair claim. Checkout the Baltimore Sun investigation several years back about USCG admin hearings which find on CG’s behalf the statistically improbable 97 percent of the time:
    http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2007-06-24/news/0706240140_1_coast-guard-administrative-law-judges-mariners

  • Rob

    The report on this unfortunate affair can tell us a great deal about our human nature. All of us as humans make poor judgments in our life both with small and big ramifications. It is clear that the captain’s decision to sail during this hurricane is one of them and we should learn from his mistake. This process helps progress seamanship and our society. Unfortunately there is part of human nature that uses others mistakes as an excuse to vilify or put themselves as superior to others. We should all be cautious of how we communication about this tragedy. In the reporting and discussions about this investigation we should question ourselves. Do we use our banter about this issue to improve upon society and seamanship or do we communicate about others bad decisions as way to prop up our own egos.

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  • Michael Gauthier

    Thank you for the fine reporting, I’ve been following it with great interest.

    One question, though, for the for all who have shared their thoughts on this forum: Why in the world am I the first one to point out how hypocritical, almost Orwellian, it is for the “respected captains” Dan Moreland and Jan Miles to sit and give their sanctimonious testimony about how they’re shocked (shocked!) at the decision made by Robin Walbridge?

    Now, let me be clear: I ABSOLUTELY agree that captain Walbridge made a horrible and irresponsible mistake deciding to leave port in the face of Hurricane Sandy. Further, I agree that many of his subsequent decisions compounded that initial mistake, leading to this tragic loss of life.

    What I don’t understand is why Capts. Miles and Moreland have any moral authority to weigh in on this issue. Moreland was shocked by Walbridge’s decisions leading up to this disaster but wasn’t it he who, as Senior Captain and owner of the Picton Castle, allowed his Junior Captain to leave safe harbor in Nova Scotia despite the worsening gale they were facing down in 2007? Wasn’t it he who allowed the vessel to beat into the twenty foot seas as the gale built to a storm, a decision which eventually cost the life of Laura Gainey when she was washed overboard and drowned?

    And as for Captain Miles, wasn’t it he who (through negligence or hubris or some combination thereof) COMPLETELY DISMASTED his schooner and only escaped killing some of his crew through complete dumb luck (dumb luck it was, indeed, as anyone who has seen pictures of Pride’s wreck can clearly see) And this for a good reason, right? circumstances out of his control? Um, no. It’s because he was sailing his boat too hard in order to…..wait for it…..win a race. Come on.

    Let me be clear, again: I do not know any of these individuals personally and thus have no axe to grind. I am motivated purely by a desire for integrity and intellectual honesty.

    Now, watch the comments fly (that is, if anyone is still following this story–I was out at sea or my contribution would have been more timely)

    And as the comments fly, let’s all just understand this reality: Miles and Moreland both inspire the same kind of stupid, unthinking devotion from their crews that Walbridge seems to have inspired. (This I HAVE seen firsthand in many conversations with many fellow sailors) They are treated in the industry as almost god-like but, just like their Greek and Roman counterparts, they are both dangerously flawed.

    How about a little intellectual honesty Jan? You too, Dan.

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